Steve O’Brien studies the case for and against the movie that killed off big screen Next Generation
Prosecution: There was an old wisdom, long-forgotten now of course, that the even-numbered Star Trek movies were the good ones. In 2002 that pattern, which had given us The Wrath Of Khan , The Voyage Home , The Undiscovered Country and First Contact , was brutally smashed by the travesty of Star Trek: Nemesis . Shamed by the fizzless and interminable Star Trek: Insurrection , Rick Berman reasoned that the franchise needed some new blood. Quite a bright idea, except the new blood shouldn’t have been writer John Logan and director Stuart Baird, a man who is rightly seen as one of the greatest editors in the business, but whose talents as a director are microscopically small. This was the film that killed the original film franchise and consigned the Next Gen crew to an early grave.
Defence: Oh, come on. While not the equal of its even-numbered friends, it’s definitely not an odd numbered Trek movie in even clothing. If Nemesis had been an episode of the TV series it would rightly have been lauded as a small-screen classic.
Prosecution: Since JJ Abrams’s pumped up reinvention of the brand, it’s difficult to look at this film now. It makes few concessions to those that haven’t watched every minute of the Next Gen saga and plods along at a Grandad’s pace.
Defence: Is it to be criticised for honouring its own history? The wedding of Deanna and Riker at the beginning of the film is the culmination of a – by then – 15 year story, and it’s a mature thing for a series to do to move that relationship on. So what if it’s in love with its own past – it’s got a right to be. It’s Star Trek , for Shat’s sake.
Prosecution: Despite it being helmed by someone with a CV that suggests he knows how to pace a movie, how come it’s so sluggish and studio-bound? It’s drab and lifeless and feels like an under-budgeted TV movie.
Defence: How can you say that with the dramatic scenes on the surface of Kolarus III, with its spectacular washed out cinematography - surely one of the most cinematic scenes of the movie franchise!
Prosecution: With a look cribbed from the infinitely better Three Kings .
Defence: Ahem. But the best Star Trek movies aren’t striving for the kind of cinematic scope of an Avatar or Lord Of The Rings . The focus of Star Trek is on character and you don’t want a lot of ambitious directorial ticks and ostentatious CGI to deflect attention away. I’m looking at you, JJ.
Prosecution: But shouldn’t a movie – a standalone movie – be looking outwards a little bit more?
Defence: It does. The themes of Nemesis are universal – love, death, betrayal, family. You just want fights don’t you?
Prosecution: A bit of action and a bit less talking would be nice. Which brings us onto this film’s Big Bad. Or should I say Small Bad, because Tom Hardy makes so little impression as Shinzon he could almost be edited out of the film and it wouldn’t upset it.
Defence: What? Tom Hardy, the actor who even the untouchable Christopher Nolan has as part of his rep team now, who is gearing up to be an unforgettable Bane in the next Batman as well as sucking in plaudits for his turn as British convict Charles Bronson? That one?
Prosecution: Yes, that one. Except he wasn’t a big name back then, for understandable reasons. Back in 2002, he just wasn’t very good, and was too young to hold his own against such a charismatic leading man as Patrick Stewart. He doesn’t even look like him, and he’s meant to be a clone!
Defence: But you can absolutely buy him as the young Picard. Stewart has always been Next Gen ’s biggest asset and giving him a nemesis that gives him something unique to react to was a masterstroke.
Prosecution: But of course the movie isn’t just about Picard, is it? Yet again, he shares centre stage with Data.
Defence: Which any good dramatist is going to do. They’re clearly the best defined and most interesting characters from this post-Kirk universe. What would you like? A film centering on Geordie and Troi?
Prosecution: Of course not. But the film hardly explores new ground. I mean, the sub-plot with B-4 – haven’t we been here before with Lore?
Defence: No. B-4 is a totally different character and a whole new acting challenge for the always great Brent Spiner. And there’s a great duality in the script, of both these central characters facing versions of themselves that are less formed. For Picard, it’s seeing himself had he been raised in a different way. For Data, it’s like seeing himself as a child. Dramatically, it’s very powerful.
Prosecution: It’s not. But anyhoo, isn’t the structure of the film just a xeroxed remake of The Wrath Of Khan ? Look at the plots – both have genetically-engineered villains, both have climactic shootouts between the Enterprise and an enemy vessel, and both end by having the series’ second most popular character die by sacrificing their life by entering the engine room to stop a bomb from going off. So much the same, but so much worse...
Defence: There are superficial similarities, but the emotional content of the ending is different. Data lives on in B-4.
Prosecution: Like Spock’s “remember” line from The Wrath of Khan ...
Defence: But though The Wrath Of Khan ends on a note of hope, we were left with no doubt that Spock was gone. But Data lives on unambiguously at the end of Nemesis . And it’s a heroic way to end a character that fought for development during the 15-year run of the Next Gen crew. It’s just a shame we never got to see another Next Generation film to see B-4 learning the ropes of Starfleet and to see what Spiner would have done with that role.
Prosecution (sarcastically): Yes, a great loss.
Defence: It’s a more contemplative film than First Contact , as it should have been as the final film for the Next Gen crew. It’s just a shame that so much was excised – 50 minutes apparently – and that it still hasn’t seen the light of day on DVD or Blu-Ray. It’s a flawed film, but nowhere near as disappointing as the comically bad The Final Frontier or the listless Insurrection . One day – when the film gets put back together as originally intended, you’ll agree with me.
Prosecution: I’d rather watch a Director’s Cut of Hawk The Slayer . Next!